It's Time for Reporters to Seek Out the Facts About O'Grady Film

Media Watch [California]
October 12, 2006

With Amy Berg's "documentary" about abusive former priest Oliver O'Grady opening in theaters this week, we feel compelled to point out a few things. This because Ms. Berg has shown no great respect for the facts, either in her "documentary" or in the various statements she's been making to peddle herself, her film and her various conspiracy theories.

Ms. Berg's message, in the film and in interviews, is simple: O'Grady is a bad guy and the Church, specifically Cardinal Mahony, withheld information and moved O'Grady to one parish after another. We've previously noted that Ms. Berg sees conspiracies in every nook and cranny, and this mind-set is readily apparent in her account of O'Grady's years in Stockton - for only a few of which Cardinal Mahony was bishop there. She alleges that during this time, the Church not only was doing little to protect children from abuse but that there was actually a conspiracy of silence and enabling.

That being the case, it is not at all surprising that her film does not mention the following facts:

While serving as Bishop of Stockton from 1980 to 1985, Cardinal Mahony received three reports of possible sexual abuse involving young people.

* In the first case in September of 1981, diocese officials received a report from several high school boys and their parents that while on a trip to Mexico Fr. Antonio Munoz had engaged in improper conduct with the boys. On the same day he received the report, then-Bishop Mahony terminated the priest's faculties - his permission to work in the diocese - and his assignment. Bishop Mahony wrote to the priest's bishop in Mexico about the situation, recommending that Munoz not be allowed to serve where he would come in contact with minors.

* Another case occurred in September, 1984. Two high school boys and their guardians reported that Fr. Antonio Camacho had taken the boys to his room where he gave them beer and tried to fondle them while they were sleeping. Then-Bishop Mahony immediately terminated Camacho's faculties and assignment. He notified Camacho's bishop in Mexico and the police about what had happened.

The third case was that of O'Grady.

* In 1984 O'Grady volunteered to the vicar general of the diocese that he had improper feelings toward children, although he had not acted on these feelings. O'Grady was ordered to undergo counseling. During these sessions O'Grady made statements that led the counselor to suspect child abuse.

* As mandated by law, the counselor notified police, who conducted a full investigation, including interviews with the child and the child's mother, both of whom denied there was any abuse. With no evidence of a crime, police closed their investigation. Given this situation, Bishop Mahony, who was traveling during most of the period of the investigation, had no reason to remove O'Grady from ministry; he was unaware of a secret file from the tenure of the previous bishop dealing with a complaint about O'Grady.

* Following the police investigation, Bishop Mahony ordered O'Grady to undergo a psychiatric evaluation. The doctor reported that O'Grady had a "defect in maturation" and should receive psychological and spiritual counseling; he did not state that O'Grady was a danger or unfit for ministry. O'Grady was assigned to the parish in San Andreas because two retired priests who could help with his maturation lived there. In 1985 Cardinal Mahony moved to Los Angeles as Archbishop without receiving further complaints about O'Grady. It was not until 1993 that accusations were made leading to O'Grady's arrest and eventual sentencing to prison.

What made the difference in the way Cardinal Mahony handled the cases of Camacho, Munoz and O'Grady? In the first two cases, the situations were unequivocal: the victims came forward and made the allegations.

But in the O'Grady case, the police closed their investigation because they had no one who reported being sexually abused; in other words, they could establish no crime. Moreover, two therapists who evaluated O'Grady at that time found no reason that O'Grady was unfit for ministry. This was the information Cardinal Mahony had to go on at the time; it's only hindsight that gives us a true picture of O'Grady. These are the facts that neither the reporters nor Ms. Berg in her "documentary" take into account.

The media coverage of Ms. Berg's "entertainment" has been curious. (We call her film an "entertainment" because of the "special effects" she has employed, placing O'Grady at a playground full of children, for instance, to increase the outrage factor. We have discussed such embellishment elsewhere.)

But back to the media. Reporters have generally accepted Ms. Berg's "entertainment" as a full and accurate account of what happened, without bothering to explore the facts. But this film is, indeed, far from a full and accurate account of what happened, as you can see from the facts we listed above. It is, instead, the self-serving recollections of a manipulative (as O'Grady admits) criminal. Why should anyone believe him?

More to the point, why do reporters, who are trained to be skeptical, believe everything he says? If reporters are going to attempt to do more than review the film, they need to do their jobs and present a more balanced, researched account that goes beyond Ms. Berg's bias.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.